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A Brief History of AUS-e-TUTE

1997 : So, What is this Internet Thingy?

The Setting: a typical School's Staff Room

History Teacher, "As if encarta wasn't bad enough, with students copying huge junks of it for their essays, now they're using this internet thing".
Chemistry Teacher 1, "inter what?"
History Teacher, "Some new fangled computer thing"
Chemistry Teacher 2, "I've heard them talk about something called the web too"
Biology Teacher, "Maybe they're doing their biology homework!"

(much laughter)

Physics Teacher (and resident, helpful, computer geek), "Actually, the internet is going to be a really useful tool. Let me show you....."

And so it began, our introduction to the internet.

1998: Identifying the Need

As a chemistry teacher, I could lose up to half a lesson just going over the previous day's homework!

And why? Because, although the textbook had quite a few questions or exercises, it provided very few answers!

Even highly competent students would lack confidence in their ability to "do the questions" if they couldn't look up the answer.
And, if a student got the "wrong answer", they felt incompetent, even if the answer in the textbook was wrong.
Highly motivated students would go searching through their class notes and the textbook trying to figure out how to answer the questions, but often, they couldn't even find the right section of the textbook to look in (through no fault of their own, I might add!).

So, could this internet thing help?

1999: HTM hell?

Here was the idea, link particular questions and exercises back to an explanation page on the internet.

Sounds simple!

But how do you do it?

Our resident computer teacher carefully explained that website pages were written in HTML and Javascript could be used to provide interactivity.
Now, this guy was really nice and tried to be very helpful, but he was talking a foreign language as far as us poor science teachers were concerned.

HTML (something to do with hell)?
Java script? (some Indonesian style of writing?)

So, it became obvious that someone was going to have to learn about this stuff.

"Hey, Janice, have you finished that Masters Degree yet?", asked Jo (the Physics Teacher and resident, helpful, computer geek)
"Well, not quite, no", I replied.
"Close enough though, You're it!

And so I found myself enrolled in Sydney University's summer courses in HTML and Javascript.

2000: AUS-e-TUTE Launched

I started writing pages for concepts that students often found hard, and needed to practice.
By the middle of 2000, we had about 30 pages. Not much but it was beginning.

And, I finally finished my Masters Degree!

So, what will we call this website?

We are in Australia. (AUS)
Our stuff is only available electronically. (e)
We are providing a tutoring service. (TUTE)

Sounds like we have a name: AUS-e-TUTE

Getting the website up required a whole new set of learning experiences (but that's another story).

http://www.ausetute.com.au was born in the year 2000.

Students and teachers gave us feedback about topics they wanted on the website, and we started creating a "to do" list, which we tried to work through systematically from the most to least urgent need.

2003: "Now, About your Website's Bandwidth..."

Our web host introduced us to a whole new concept, bandwidth.
It appears our website was eating it up at a great rate of knots.
Too much traffic.
Solution: the whole website needed to migrate over to a new server.

2005: Where Do All These People Come From?

The one thing we had never thought about originally was that our website could be viewed by people all over the world, not just in Australia.

"Hey, we've got an email from this guy in California. He wants to know if we could do something about equilibrium constants."
"A Teacher in London wants to know if they can get a site licence to access the Test Centre"
"A student in Singapore wants to know how to cite one of our webpages"
"A South African directory wants to add our site to their database of links"
"Someone from education in New Zealand wants to add links to us"

And so it goes on, and on, and on, ad infinitum.

Is it possible to find out who is visiting the website?
New learning curve: web stats!

"Hey this can't be right!"
"What's wrong?"
"These stats say we get about 7,000 visitors a day!"
"Where do all these people come from?"
"OMG", (we were really were getting the hang of this internet stuff by now), "They come from everywhere! Name any place in the world, and I bet you we've had visitors from there!"

And, migration over to another new server.

2007: The Bleak Year

A lot changes in 10 years.
People move on, change jobs, find other interests.

As our popularity grew to over 10,000 visitors a day, we were inundated with spam. Junk email flooded us! No-one had time to cope with the thousands, and yes I do mean thousands, of junk mails we were receiving daily.
And it was disheartening.

And, the AUS-e-TUTE website was looking old, dated, sad, tired.

Was it time for AUS-e-TUTE to disappear?

2008: The Facelift

In the beginning, a bunch of Science Teachers got together to set up a website that would make their life easier, and help their students.

But, and this is important, not one of those teachers knew anything about design, or graphics.

And, in 1999 when this all started, we were all on dial-up modems. Most of us had 28kb modems (incredibly slow), a few had upgraded to 56kb modems (really slow).
So, we tried to keep download times small by only including images if they were absolutely essential.

In 1999, most of us were still on 640 x 480 tiny monitors, a few had 800 x 600, ie, small, monitors. So the website was designed for the lowest common denominator, 640 x 480.

In the beginning, there were 2 main browsers; Internet Explorer version 4 and Netscape (apologies to Mac users, but there were so few of you I can't even remember the name of the browser that was bundled with your Mac). And they didn't handle code the same way at all. Painfull!

Fast forward to 2008.
Internet speeds have improved dramatically. Download time is not the issue it once was (although bandwidth still is to some extent).
Screen resolutions have increased. Typically, less than 1% of our current visitors have screens less than 1000px wide.
The number of browsers (and versions!) in use to access the website has also increased; Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome, even Netscape still makes an appearance, plus others.

It was time to take all these factors into account and give AUS-e-TUTE a facelift!

Besides, the number of visitors was still on the rise, and our webhost was starting to complain again about the amount of bandwidth our website uses.
Time to migrate to yet another new server.

But this time, I decided that when the website moved, it would have a newer, fresher, look, and hopefully, we would improve site navigation so that users can more easily find what they are looking for.

We also introduced "Chris, the AUS-e-TUTE chemist", a speaking glossary of chemistry terms and definitions.
Chris was an immediate success, and we will continue to add terms and definitions to Chris' vocabulary to make it an even more useful tool.

2009 : The Year of Expansion

We set ourselves a number of goals for 2009, and quickly realized that, once again, we may have bitten off more than we can chew!

We did however, manage to

Reposition our newsletter as a "lesson-in-a-box" for busy teachers.

Increase the number of chemistry resources offered.

Include Syllabus Study Guides for SAT and AP Chemistry
(Australian Syllabus Study Guides had already been completed)

Set up a 'Teachers Only' section of the website.

Set up Worksheet Wizards for teachers: allows teachers to prepare printable worksheets in seconds!

2009 was an amazing year. The number of members and unique visitors to the website almost doubled in one year, and the number of people spending an hour or more on the website increased similarly.

The number of emails we received giving feedback about the website also increased substantially, which is fantastic. Ofcourse we love to hear that you think the website is useful, but we also like to hear about the things you think could be improved or added.

And so, all the things on the 2009 list that didn't get done have been forwarded to 2010.....

2010 : Goals and Outcomes

"Complete" the Chemistry resources by providing a tutorial for every test/exam set in the Test Centre (this is now part of the general re-write of major sections).

Reposition our blog as a provider of "stimulus material" for busy teachers.

Add online quiz wizards to Teachers Only section (well, we made a good start!).

Begin writing and uploading physics resources ← the major focus for the year (mmmm .... well ... some resources have been started)

2011 : Increasing Interactivity

10 years ago we had an idea, a magnificent idea infact.
We had wanted to write truly interactive learning activities, a kind of scaffolded approach to problem solving, but at that time, we were somewhat hampered by our limited coding ability.
(I don't mind admitting that to all my friends reading this).
It was time to revisit that idea, not just because it is a really good idea, but because we now had the skills to tackle the job!

The first few of these Interactive Learning Activites went live in 2011 and our available to our Class and School group members.
As we wrote them, we got better at introducing more interactivity into the exercises, which meant going back to the earlier ones and revising them based on our newer knowledge.
As a consequence, there may not be many of them yet, but as the number increases so does their usefulness.

The other consequence of this, and of finding solutions for some problematic behaviour associated with the increasingly popular chrome browser, was that we needed to review some of the older Test Centre pages.
We are currently undergoing a systematic review and update of all the resources.
This process will take us through to 2012 ......

The AUS-e-TUTE website continues to expand, more tutorials, tests, exams, and games are being added all the time.
We still rely on feedback from teachers and students to identify areas of need, and your suggestions are added to the "to do" list.
If lots of people are requesting a particular topic be covered, then we attack that one sooner than a topic requested by only a few people.

So, keep those suggestions coming.

Our contact details our listed on the contact.html page, so don't be shy, just send us an email.
Please don't expect an immediate response, if you don't live in Australia, New Zealand, or close by, we could be asleep! If you do live in Australia, look at the time, we might not be in the office, or if it's during buriness hours, we might be attending meetings:(

Written by Janice
AUS-e-TUTE editor and webmaster.

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